Ballina is a town in County Mayo in the west of Ireland, on the banks of the River Moy near its estuary. Known in Irish as Béal an Átha, "mouth of the ford", it's a small market town, with a population in 2016 of 10,171. There's not much to see here but it has a good range of accommodation and other amenities. So Ballina is the main base for sights in the north end of Mayo, around the villages of Killala, Ballycastle, Foxford and Crossmolina.
The TIC is within the Chamber of Commerce on Pearse St, open M-Sa 10:00-17:00.
In 1798 the United Irishmen sought to reform and free Ireland along the lines of revolutionary America and France. Rebellion broke out in May, with the promise of French military backing, but promptly flopped. It only took hold in County Wexford, but the rebels could never break out of this enclave, and after six weeks they were crushed. So it was already too little, too late when a French expeditionary force landed at Killala in August - but they took the British completely off guard, captured Ballina and Castlebar, and marched on across Mayo for eleven days before being encircled. The French surrendered while the Irish were hacked down where they stood. So although this was just a brief coda to the main rebellion, 1798 has passed into legend as "The Year of the French".
There was a final landing attempt in Donegal in November, but the Royal Navy captured them, including the rebel leader Wolfe Tone. A rattled London government sought a tighter grip and in 1801 created the United Kingdom, henceforth ruling Ireland and Scotland as simply a collection of counties with no pretensions to be nations. So this unlikely corner of Ireland was the starting place of the UK.
Many thousands of Irish emigrated in the aftermath, even before the famine. Among them were the Blewitt family, ancestors of US President Joe Biden, who visited Ballina in 2023.
Trains run to Ballina along a branch line. There are three services a day from Dublin Heuston, taking 3 hr 30 min with changes at Athlone and Manulla Junction. There are also three connections per day from Westport and Castlebar, change at Manulla Junction. A walk-up single from Dublin is €23, see Irish Rail for timetables, fares and online tickets.
Ballina 1 railway station is on N26 500 m south of town centre. The ticket office is open M-F 07:30-17:00 and there are ticket machines and toilets.
Bus 420 runs three times daily from Castlebar, taking 50 min via Pontoon to Ballina. There's only one direct bus per day from Westport, via Castlebar and Pontoon.
The bus station is north side of the railway station.
You need your own wheels, the sights of most interest are out in the countryside with a sparse bus service.
Bus 445 runs three times M-F from Ballina along the coast to Killala, Carrowmore and Ballycastle.
Bus 446 runs from Ballina to Bangor Erris and Belmullet on the peninsula. The morning bus turns around there, but three others M-F (two Sa Su) continue to Blacksod lighthouse.
McGrath's Coach R1 runs once M-Sa in from Glenamoy via Ballycastle and Killala to Ballina, heading back in the afternoon. R2 is an extra afternoon run M-F between Ballycastle, Killala and Ballina.
- Town centre has many Georgian and Victorian buildings. The monument along Circular Road is to General Humbert, who led the French invasion of 1798. The two river bridges were built 1835-36; traffic flows clockwise round town and over them, and is often backed up. A little way upstream, Salmon Weir footbridge resembles a fishing rod bent by a catch; Ridge Pool behind the weir is a famous fishing spot.
- The Jackie Clarke Collection is a small museum and gallery open T-Sa 10:00-17:00, enter from Walsh St.
- St Muredach's Cathedral (RC) on the east river bank was built from 1827.
- Dolmen of the Four Maols is on the lane up Primrose Hill, just west of the railway tracks into Ballina station. It's a burial cist from 2000 BC but in legend the four maols (meaning "tonsured ones", ie monks) slew the rightful king of Connacht; they were chopped into quarters and buried here, all 16 bits.
- 1 Rosserk Friary is the substantial ruin of a Franciscan Friary established in the 1440s. It's open 24 hours, the access lane is paved but narrow.
- 2 Moyne Abbey is an even more substantial ruin. It too was Franciscan, completed in 1462 in Irish Gothic style. Open 24 hours.
- 3 Killala is a fishing village north along the coast. It was an ecclesiastic centre, as shown by its nearby monasteries, and has a Round Tower. St Patrick's Cathedral (C of I) is from the 1670s and in its graveyard is a 9th century souterrain. But Killala is best known for the French invasion of 1798 - they landed at Kilcummin a few km north then swiftly captured Killala and Ballina. They came too late to support the rebellion of United Irishmen, already crushed in its stronghold of County Wexford; nevertheless they caught the British off-guard, brushed aside opposition at Castlebar, and marched on for 11 days before being encircled. The French surrendered, while their Irish supporters were hacked down where they stood
- 4 Rathfran Friary or "Priory of the Holy Cross" was Dominican, founded 1274. It's open 24 hours.
- Rathfranpark Wedge Tomb is on the lane west of the Friary, just south of the turn-off. Built circa 2500-2000 BC, it's a 3 m grave passage oriented to the rising sun. Until the 1950s there was a stone circle nearby, but it was uprooted and the stones dumped onto the tomb.
- Breastagh Ogham Stone is just north of that turn-off. It's probably of similar age to the tomb, with the inscription added much later, say 550-900 AD. This is very faint but reads: : ᚛ᚂᚓᚌᚌ[--]ᚄᚇ[--]ᚂᚓᚌᚓᚄᚉᚐᚇ᚜ / ᚛ᚋᚐᚊ ᚉᚑᚏᚏᚁᚏᚔ ᚋᚐᚊ ᚐᚋᚋᚂᚂᚑᚌᚔᚈᚈ᚜ which (to save searching for an online Ogham translator) means "Legescad, son of Corrbrias, son of Ammllogitt" - he was probably the grandson of a king of Connacht.
- Kilcummin north of the Friary was where the French came ashore: there's a sculpture but that's all. Sheltered in the bay round the headland, Carrowmore Beach and Lacken Strand have fine beaches. On a hilltop west of the bay, Lacken Gazebo is probably a late 18th century folly.
- 5 Downpatrick Head is the rugged headland further north, with Dun Briste the chunky offshore sea-stack. There's also a church founded by St Patrick, and Pul Na Sean Tinne a collapsed sea cavern which in rough weather becomes a large blowhole. To aircrew the headland is better known as "Eire 64" for the aviation marker - one of 83 etched around the Republic's coast, this one has been preserved.
- 6 Ballycastle is a small village which has been described as "on the periphery of the periphery". There's an arts centre but the castle is gone. It lacks accommodation, but see Sleep for Stella Maris on the coast nearby. The main thing to do here is avoid confusing this village with Ballycastle in County Antrim.
- 7 Céide Fields, Glenurla, Ballycastle F26 PF66 (8 km west of Ballycastle on R314), ☏ . Daily mid-March-May, Oct 10:00-17:00, June-Sept 10:00-18:00. Field system dating to 3500 BC, when the area was warmer and forested. Stones were cleared from the fields into walls, and the land was tilled with ox-drawn wooden ploughs with stone culters. There wasn't a village centre, but a scattering of round-house dwellings with herb and vegetable gardens and their own fields. At some point the climate became colder and wetter (which forest clearance may have exacerbated), the area became boggy and the fields were abandoned. They became engulfed by bog until the 1970s discovery of the extensive walls. The site is on the coast above 100 m cliffs. The visitor centre is a pyramid, presumably to indicate that it was built much later than the field walls. Adult €5, conc €4, child €3.
- A wild coast stretches west: follow R314 then the winding lane through Geeveraune, eventually to Benwee Head and the Stags of Broadhaven.
- North Mayo Heritage Centre, Enniscoe House (see Sleep). M-F 09:30-16:00. Small museum and heritage centre.
- 8 Deel Castle is the ruin of two buildings. The original tower house is 16th century; in the 18th century a new wing was added and a country house "Castle Gore" built alongside. This was burned down by the IRA in 1922 while the old castle subsided into natural ruin. It's fenced off, but you see enough from the farm lane.
- 9 Errew Abbey was Augustinian, founded in the 6th century but rebuilt in 1413. It was probably a priory outpost of Crossmolina not an independent abbey. The ruin is on a peninsula in Lough Conn, and just north is Templenagalliaghdoois, a medieval oratory or nunnery.
- 10 Addergoole on R315 has a memorial to the 14 villagers who emigrated aboard Titanic: eleven were lost in the sinking. See also the commemorative stained glass window in the village church just south.
- 11 Foxford is best-known for its woollen mills, and for salmon-fishing on the River Moy. The Foxford Way is an 86 km hiking circuit.
- 12 Nephin is the isolated peak rising west of Lough Conn. See Castlebar for walking trails.
- See Newport for points further west, including Ballycroy National Park and Belmullet Peninsula. They're easily reached by car from Ballina.
- Belleek Woods are a good area for strolling, on the riverbank 2 km north of town.
- Ballina Arts Centre puts on theatre, music, films and exhibitions. It's on Barrett St, open M-Sa 10:00-18:00.
- IMC Cinema is on Mercy Rd in Ballina at the corner of McDermott St.
- Ballina Golf Club is 1 km east of town on R294; it's 6175 yards, par 71, visitor round €30.
- Ballina Sports Centre has a sports hall and gym. The swimming pool is next door.
- Surf at Enniscrone 15 km north; the waves are bigger further along the Sligo coast at Strandhill.
- Foxford Goat Fair is in mid-May, dates for 2022 are tbc.
- The Wild Atlantic Way is a coastal itinerary from Donegal all the way to Kinsale near Cork. The local section is self-evident, from Enniscrone to Ballina, Killala, and along the north coast to Mullet Peninsula.
- Tesco in town centre is open M-Sa 08:00-22:00, Su 10:00-20:00.
- Farmers Market is in Ballina Market Square, Sa 09:00-14:00.
- Foxford Woollen Mills[dead link] have a shop in Foxford open M-Sa 10:00-00-17:00, Su 12:00-17:00, but they're mostly an online business nowadays.
- Dillons, Dillon Terrace, ☏ . M-Sa 17:00-00:00, Su 13:00-20:00. Good central restaurant, in warm weather the vine-clad courtyard is the place to be.
- Lots of cheap and cheerful places in town centre for Italian, Chinese or Indian.
- 1 Crockets Quay Bistro, The Quay Lane F26 E5C0 (east riverbank), ☏ . Great bistro on the Quay. The bar is in three sections: a small front in trad style, a middle bar for conversation and a large back bar with dance floor, so they often host functions.
- 2 Dolphin Hotel in Crossmolina has rooms but it's Mulhern's Restaurant that draws the admiring reviews.
- VJ Doherty's, Bridge St. Trad pub, little altered since the 1950s, relaxing place for a quiet pint.
- Bridge St is the pub strip, with Doherty's (above), An Bolg Buí, Howard's, Corcoran's, Peacock's, Broken Jug, Rouse's, O'Dowds, Hughes, Harrison's, Paddy Mac's, Bar Square and Tarbh47. Just east of the bridge are The Auld Shebeen (aka Betty's) and Breathnach's.
- Distillery: Connacht Whiskey is north side of town on the riverbank. They produce a range of whiskey plus vodka, gin and poitin. No tours.
- Coca Cola have a big site north of town in Beleek. They manufacture concentrates, transported elsewhere to make products such as Coca Cola, Fanta and Sprite.
- 1 Belleek Park, Ballina F26 CP57 (2 km north of town), ☏ . Well-run caravan and camping park open Mar-Oct.
- Loft B&B, Pearse St, ☏ . Pub with rooms, some noise, but value for money. B&B double €80.
- The Lodge, 2 Dillon Terr, ☏ . Smart clean place in town centre. B&B double €90.
- Ballina Manor Hotel, Barrett St, ☏ . Mid-range hotel on the riverbank in town centre. Friendly place, some facilities tired, limited parking. B&B double €90.
- 2 Ice House, The Quay F26 Y9E8 (east riverside), ☏ . Smart modern hotel with spa and a good restaurant.
- 3 Twin Trees, Downhill Rd F26 A3N7, ☏ . Good mid-range place with leisure facilities and ample parking. B&B double €100.
- 4 Belleek Castle, Ballina F26 KV04 (2 km north of town on west riverbank), ☏ . Stylish hotel in mock-Jacobean mansion built 1830. Fine dining in Jack Fenn's. B&B double €200.
- See Enniscrone for accommodation across the boundary in County Sligo.
- 5 Great National Hotel, Dublin Rd F26 X5P3 (N26 three km south of town), ☏ . Comfy smart hotel with leisure centre and spa. B&B double €90.
- 6 Mount Falcon Hotel, Foxford Rd (N26 six km south of town), ☏ . Upscale hotel on 19th century estate. B&B double €230.
- 7 Enniscoe House, Cloonkelly, Castlehill F26 EA34 (20 km southwest of Ballina), ☏ . Splendid country house hotel in Georgian mansion beneath Mount Nephin, open Apr-Oct. B&B double €240.
- 8 Stella Maris, Killerduff, Ballycastle (on bay north of Ballycastle), ☏ . Stylish country house on the coast, which has been a coastguard station and a convent, and now makes an alternative base for the north of the county. They only offer B&B and don't do evening meals. B&B double €125.
As of Feb 2021, Ballina has 5G with Three and 4G with Eir and Vodafone. There's a good signal on the roads to the south but it's patchy in other directions.
- Sligo to the east is surrounded by the limestone scarps, prehistoric sites and mountain lakes that inspired WB Yeats.
- Newport is a possible base for the bleak northwest of Mayo, though you can easily day-trip from Ballina.
- Westport is on Clew Bay, and close to the pilgrimage mountain of Croagh Patrick.
- Boyle away east is where you re-enter the lush lowlands, at the head of the Shannon navigation network.